Korean telco, SK Telecom, has just announced plans to launch what it says will be the world’s first pilot LTE-M (LTE for Maritime Wireless Communications) network, as part of a research and development project led by the Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF).
According to SK Telecom, LTE-M will provide high-speed wireless telecommunications for ships located approximately 100kms from shore, and “significantly enhance navigation safety of small ships that have relatively poor inbuilt communication and safety system than large vessels.”
The key to this new technology appears to be a high gain antenna to be mounted on the shore that can transmit and receive signals at the 100km distance required, and an LTE-M router that can “receive LTE signals in a stable manner in the maritime environment by withstanding high humidity, strong wind and salt-laden atmosphere.”
SK Telecom, so far as I can tell, appears to be the only company pursuing this technology but it will certainly please the members of the Marine LTE 4G Alliance, a LinkedIn group started by Alan Spicer Marine Telecom in 2012, “In an attempt to show 4G LTE equipment manufacturers some numbers of how many resellers and yachts want 4G LTE. I am forming an alliance to let them know that we are here and we want 4G LTE available for boats.”
There’s just one problem. SK Telekom seems to have co-opted an acronym that is already spoken for, and one with considerably more momentum behind it than LTE for maritime communications. Namely LTE for M2M applications.
It’s LTE-M, for manufacturing
The need for, and the attributes of, this particular variant of LTE are set out in a Nokia White Paper Nokia LTE M2M Optimizing LTE for the Internet of Things .
It explains: “Current modems in LTE networks target high performance, with speed in the order of tens of megabits to enable high resolution imaging and video content, games and other entertainment. While the modem chips have been built to support these extreme speeds they have become complex and expensive pieces of hardware – many M2M applications produce perhaps hundreds of bits or measurement data. Therefore, one specific requirement is to reduce the M2M system cost by simplifying the chipset.”
Other important goals are to enable the development of remote devices with greatly increased battery life, and to increase the range of LTE. “A simple example is smart meters, which are often in basements of buildings behind concrete walls,” the paper says. “Industrial applications such as elevators or conveyor belts can also be located inside challenging constructions. This has driven the M2M community to look for methods that increase coverage by tolerating lower signal strength than that employed by devices used by people.”
These three considerations — device cost, battery life and coverage — are just for starters. The white paper lists a host of other lesser attributes being developed for LTE-M.
The many features of LTE-M
In fact, the features needed for LTE-M are so many that they are being addressed in successive 3GPPP releases of the LTE standard. Rel-11 contained some specification for LTE-M. Specifications for low cost devices were included in Rel-12. Both Nokia and Ericsson have submitted proposals for inclusions in Rel-13 that will increase coverage. Rel-13 is also likely to include features that will increase battery life, and Nokia says further specifications for inclusion in subsequent releases are under consideration.
LTE-M is expected to become a commercial reality in 2017 and seems likely to be a significant opportunity for mobile network operators. This article in Electronics News looks at 12 emerging LTE-based revenue sources for mobile operators.
Kimberly Tassin of Sequans Communications,m in this post, argues: “Although the point in time at which LTE becomes the dominant connectivity technology in the Internet of Things is debatable, it is clear that’s where the world is headed and the time is approaching quickly.”
SK Telekom clearly needs to find a new acronym. Maybe LTE-S for shipping, sailors, or seafaring? Take your pick.